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PhD Scholarship - Royal Holloway and The British Museum

Posted on 23/02/2017

From "wretched savages" to the world's "most beautiful" artefacts: British ethnographic collections from Western Australia

Royal Holloway University of London and The British Museum are pleased to announce a funded doctoral studentship under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with academics from Royal Holloway’s Department of History and partners in The British Museum, benefitting from a lively research culture at Royal Holloway and the cultural riches and expertise of The British Museum.

The Research Project
The British Museum holds c.1200 Aboriginal objects, photographs and postcards from Western Australia, collected by explorers, early colonists, police officers, colonial administrators, missionaries and activists for Aboriginal rights. The earliest date from 1821, and are among the oldest ethnographic objects ever collected from Western Australia. Inspired by these holdings, the project will produce the first history of British ethnographic collecting in Western Australia. In 1688, William Dampier reported Aborigines in Western Australia to be ‘the miserablest people in the world’, yet by 1936, the British Museum described a donation of Western Australian spearheads as the ‘most beautiful … made by any natives in the world’. This project will explore how the making, distribution and exhibition of such objects helped shape ideas about value, place and identity in Western Australia. The student will join a small team of researchers based at the British Museum and working on its Australian collections. S/he will also benefit from an international collaboration with Australian researchers (‘Collecting the West’), ahead of the 2020 re-­opening of the Western Australian
Museum. This PhD project will provide a view of Western Australia from the former imperial metropole and create improved understanding of the significance and meaning of British collections in local, national and global arenas. There will be networking opportunities to work with colleagues and Aboriginal communities in Western Australia as well as at the British Museum. The project will be co-­supervised by Dr Zoë Laidlaw, Reader in Imperial and Colonial History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Dr Gaye Sculthorpe, Curator, and Section Head, Oceania, The British Museum.

Closing date for applications: 5pm, Wednesday 29 March 2017

For more detail on the project and how to apply, download the full details.

For more detail on Collaborative Doctoral Awards at the British Museum, see:

Informal enquiries may be made to Dr Gaye Sculthorpe or to Dr Zoë Laidlaw.


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